ATLANTA – Henrik Lundqvist likes this group of New York Rangers even though he barely knows some of his new teammates.
“We had many guys out,” the sixth-year star goaltender said. “We tried to rebuild the team a little bit. We’re trying to get everybody on the same page.”
Mats Zuccarello scored in a shootout, Brian Boyle’s goal with 5:19 left in regulation forced overtime, and the Rangers rallied to beat the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2 on Saturday night.
An increasing number of injuries forced the Rangers to use six rookies in the lineup, and New York was without defenceman Dan Girardi (ribs, face) and forward Brandon Prust (foot) for much of the game.
Neither is expected to miss significant time, good news for a team that lost forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko this week to injuries. Prust, who had a shot hit his foot, said X-rays were negative.
Lundqvist stopped 20 shots through overtime and then was perfect in four shootout rounds for the Rangers, who avoided losing for the fourth time in five games over seven days. Wojtek Wolski added a second-period goal for New York.
“We’re not in an easy spot,” Lundqvist said, “but we’re doing the best we can now to get points.”
Anthony Stewart and Nik Antropov had goals for the fading Thrashers, who have lost six of seven.
Stewart’s 12th goal gave the Thrashers a 2-1 lead 18:01 into the second period. Bryan Little’s shot from the right circle glanced off Stewart’s backside, but Stewart gained control of the puck and scored to Lundqvist’s glove side.
Atlanta made it 1-0 on Antropov’s tip-in—his eighth goal—6:47 into the first.
Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay was displeased that a line consisting of veteran defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Chris Thorburn let Boyle tie it in the third.
“We got a point, but they have to understand the timing of this,” Ramsay said. “Playing well is a good thing. Winning is better. We have to be willing to pay the price in the third period to win.”
Wolski scored his ninth goal to lift the Rangers into a 1-1 tie at 2:43 of the second period. He was skating toward the bottom of the slot when Derek Stepan sent a pass to him from the right circle.
The Thrashers seemed to get a boost from a penalty-killing unit that started the night ranked next to last in the NHL.
Atlanta wasn’t short-handed until 14:33 remained in regulation, but Ondrej Pavelec stopped three shots while the Thrashers were down two men.
Boyle set up his 17th goal, tied for the most on the Rangers, with a hit on defenceman Johnny Oduya. As both he and Byfuglien skated past the Atlanta blue line, Boyle slid the puck behind the defenceman before regaining it and beating Pavelec with a wrister.
“I tried to chip it,” Boyle said. “I got some room. I tried to go for a backhand with my forehand. Some holes opened up, and it trickled in.”
Brodie Dupont, the Rangers’ third-round draft pick in 2005, took only seven shifts in his NHL debut. He is the eighth rookie to make his Rangers debut this season.
Girardi’s face was swollen after a second-period with Andrew Ladd, but he said sore ribs, caused by Byfuglien’s check, were the main reason he didn’t return.
Zuccarello was glad to sneak away with a win, particularly considering the Rangers began the game with six forwards on the injured list.
“Battling hard and losing two guys and having other players step up really hard was big,” he said. “Boyle doing a hell of a job on the last goal, and (Lundqvist) is tremendous again. It’s just a team effort and a great victory.”
Notes: Zuccarello, a rookie in his 15th game, has scored on all three of his NHL shootout tries with two deciding goals. … Wolski has three goals and six points in six games since the Rangers acquired him from Phoenix on Jan. 10 for defenceman Michal Rozsival. … New York captain Chris Drury has no goals in 19 games since returning from a broken finger. … Girardi was trying to avenge a clean hit on defence partner Marc Staal when he grabbed Ladd’s jersey and fought the forward.